Driverless cars and V2V communications: The future is here

driverless cars The future is here, thanks to developments in vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications, where cars ‘talk’ to each other by exchanging data -- and further down the road, driverless cars.

At a press conference in February 2014,  U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said V2V shows great promise in keeping drivers safe. Foxx says V2V has the potential to help drivers avoid up to 80 percent of crashes involving drivers unimpaired by alcohol or drugs. recently chatted with Teresa Adams, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to fill us in on developments in V2V (connected) and driverless cars, and how these two types of technology differ.

Adams recently finished a three-year appointment as part of a committee giving advice to Foxx on intelligent transportation systems. She says V2V communications are likely to be in the U.S. in 10 years and will have a huge impact.

It’s not clear when driverless cars will be available, but it's expected to be after V2V hits the market.

Q. You've said car-to-car communications will hit the car market before driverless cars. What tasks will these cars be able to do for the driver that they can't do now?

A. Today some vehicles have features that can sense things -- for example, some high-priced cars can sense when there's a vehicle in the passing lane.

Car-to-car communications doesn't use sensors. Cars will communicate with each other. The driver still does the driving. The object isn't to replace the driver like with driverless vehicles. Using a radio signal, vehicles trade data and are constantly aware of each other.

You'd receive the same data as other vehicles, and vice versa. Braking and collision avoidance could be part of the package.

So for example, if a car three spots ahead of you brakes hard, you'd know sooner than if you didn't have the V2V system.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will make decisions about when and whether V2V systems will be required on vehicles. In (August 2014), it issued a research report outlining its initial research on V2V including cost estimates and benefits of two applications -- intersection crashes and left-turn crashes.

NHTSA also addresses technical, legal, security and privacy issues likely to be faced when V2V is implemented.

For example, with regard to privacy, who owns the data? Could vehicles using these systems be tracked? If a V2V system isn’t working correctly, can data be collected without revealing sensitive information about the driver or vehicle?

Q. What's the biggest advantage of V2V systems?

A. The big "selling point" of car-to-car communications is safety. The potential for saving lives and preventing crashes is enormous, especially when you realize that 90 percent of deaths (from car accidents) involve human error.

Q.  Do you think V2V systems will be optional as is the case with some safety features today?

A. No. For it to work, you'll need all manufacturers on board. A car manufacturer will be reluctant to invest in car-to-car communications if they're the only manufacturer making them available to consumers.  

NHTSA has said that a single manufacturer wouldn't have any reason or incentive to build vehicles capable of "talking" with other vehicles if there are no other vehicles to talk to.

The transition could work like it did with digital TVs. There was a phase-in period. If the consumer didn't switch by the end of a certain time, you were given a workaround such as a coupon to help buy a digital converter box. For example, if you have a collector's vehicle, there will be a workaround.

There's also the issue of finding the right price point that satisfies the manufacturer and will work for the consumer. NHTSA will be heavily involved with that.

Q. What are the chief barriers to driverless cars? 

A. Besides technological challenges, there will be social, legal, regulatory and insurance hurdles. For example, with a driverless car, who's liable in the event of a crash? The manufacturer? The driver?

Q. What steps are necessary for car manufacturers to make driverless cars available?

A. The biggest manufacturing obstacle is the cost of the driverless technology. What's required is high-speed sensing technology to collect external information and internal control systems to adjust steering, braking, acceleration and deceleration -- all in real time.

These cars need reliable and robust technology to connect all the sensors as well as secure software which can handle all kinds of situations -- predictable and unpredictable.


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